The Maria Paradox: How Latinas Can Merge Old World Traditions with New World Self-Esteem

The Maria Paradox: How Latinas Can Merge Old World Traditions with New World Self-Esteem

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In a lively, anecdotal manner, the authors show how to balance old-world values with contemporary North America, whether the issue is juggling career and family demands, turning the traditional marriage into a partnership, awakening and accepting one’s own sexuality, seeking help with emotional problems outside the family, or learning to stand up for one’s feelings and rights.
Filled with real-life success stories and wise, compassionate advice, The Maria Paradox details how any Latina can enjoy the best of both worlds and become her own person at last.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781497672796
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 07/15/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 273
Sales rank: 721,024
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Dr. Rosa Maria Gil is the founder, president, and CEO of Comunilife, Inc., a health and human services agency founded in 1989 to create a healthier tomorrow for children, adolescents, adults, seniors, and families living with mental illness, HIV, or AIDS in New York City’s diverse underserved communities. Comunilife helps them achieve self-sufficiency and a better quality of life in the community through safe and affordable housing, behavioral health care, and social services. Comunilife has been recognized for developing community-defined best practices for Latinos.

Dr. Gil served as health policy advisor to the mayor and health administrator of New York City and is a former chairperson of the New York City Health and Hospital Corporation. Dr. Gil is the former university dean for health sciences at the City University of New York.

Dr. Gil has published numerous articles on mental health, ethnicity, child welfare, and gender issues. She is the coauthor of The Maria Paradox, the first authoritative book on self-esteem and Hispanic women.

Dr. Carmen Inoa Vazquez is a noted authority on Latin American mental health and bicultural lifestyles. She is the author of three books: Parenting with Pride Latino Style, The Maria Paradox (with Dr. Rosa Maria Gil), and Grief Therapy with Latinos (with Dr. Dinelia Rosa).
Vazquez has also published numerous chapters and articles in professional journals focusing on gender issues and mental health, and she lectures internationally in the areas of training, supervision, assessments, neuropsychology, health psychology, developmental psychology, and cross-cultural psychology. She has been featured in the New York Times, the Miami Herald, the Los Angeles Times, El Diario La Prensa, the New York Post, the Daily News, and other major publications throughout the United States. She has also been featured in Si, People en Español, Latina, and Moderna magazines, and has been a guest on major television and radio programs across the country.
Dr. Vazquez is a clinical professor in psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine. She has a private practice in New York City. She is married and the mother of two sons, a financial analyst and a computer specialist. When she manages to take a break from her busy work schedule, she enjoys traveling, Pilates, playing tennis, gardening, swimming, and relaxing at the beach.

Read an Excerpt

The Maria Paradox

How Latinas Can Merge Old World Traditions with New World Self-Esteem

By Rosa Maria Gil, Carmen Inoa Vazquez


Copyright © 1996 Rosa Maria Gil, D.S.W., and Carmen Inoa Vazquez, Ph.D.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-7279-6


"Do Not Forget A Woman's Place":

Old World vs. New Life

Natalia, a twenty-five-year-old Argentinian-born architect raised in the United States, was in a bind. She came to therapy torn by doubts and fears which were causing her a lot of emotional anguish. "I hate my father! No, I hate my entire family," she told her therapist before adding, "No, I really love them. I even love my father, but ... Oh, I don't know ..."

Natalia was distraught that although she'd made the daring move of getting her own apartment, her father still felt he had the right to control her life. Only recently, he'd shown up unexpectedly early on a Sunday morning, demanding to know what she'd been doing out at two a.m. the night before. From the messages she'd played back when she got in, Natalia knew her father had started calling around eight p.m., and called every twenty minutes until around two. At this point, she assumed, mamá must have convinced him to go to sleep. But he showed up the next morning anyway.

"I just had it. I refused to tell him where I was or who I was with," she continued. "Actually, I was with a date at a wedding in Connecticut. My sin, I guess, was not reporting my plans to the family before-hand. Why should I have? I'm a twenty-five-year-old self-supporting adult. Anyway, I'm just glad my date didn't stay over. If Papá had found a man in my apartment, he probably would have challenged him to a duel!"

But what irked Natalia most was her father's feeling totally justified in treating her like a rebellious adolescent simply because she was a woman. During the Sunday morning meltdown, he actually informed her that it was his responsibility to see to her welfare. "Furthermore," he'd bellowed, "do not forget you owe me respeto!" Then he'd stormed out. Now they weren't even speaking. That meant Natalia's family contact was limited to whispered phone calls with her mother, sister, and brothers—none of whom dared to stand up to Papá.

Natalia very much wanted a life of her own, both social and professional. She desperately wanted her father to be less controlling, less critical, and more loving. She wanted him to be supportive of her needs, not his own. She needed her mother to help her deal with her father, which of course her mother wasn't about to do. Now Natalia was at the point of wondering if she was going to have to fire her family permanently. But when she seriously contemplated severing her relationship with them, she got frightened and began to feel like una mala hija. "I want to be my own person and I want the love of my family. Why is that too much to ask?" she complained.

Natalia's dilemma is typical of what you and other Latinas face in the United States—a profound clash between women's expectations here and in your country.

Being la santa de la casa, the household saint whose vocation is being a dutiful and uncomplaining daughter, wife, and mother, may have been enough para tu mamá y para tu abuela. In any case, your mother and grandmother most probably had no choice if they wanted to be considered respectable. You, however, have choices. And while that prospect is exciting, it can also be terribly threatening.

For example, you may want to be loved, not stifled, like Natalia, but you may be afraid to set limits.

Or you may feel unsatisfied with just being a full-time housewife, but are afraid even to mention the subject of working outside the home for fear of insulting your husband's macho.

Or you may dream of going to law school, but doubt yourself when your mother and father unconsciously discourage you by suggesting that it will lead to your being una solterona, an old maid, or that it would take time away from someday being a good wife and mother.

You certainly don't want your husband and mother-in-law to treat you like a child, but you accept it because complaining to them would be a violation of respeto.

And you want your daughters to be every bit as empowered as your sons, but realize your entire family is pressuring you to treat your niños and your niñas differently.

Even though you feel all these conflicting emotions, you most likely have trouble expressing them. Or, like Natalia, perhaps you do nothing until you get so angry, you overreact and really cause a scene. It's because you're afraid of being considered una mala mujer! And not only by your loved ones, but by yourself as well.

Since you're reading this book, we assume that you, like so many of nuestras hermanas, are feeling the weight of this inner and outer struggle and want to resolve your conflicted emotions. Without discarding the Latin traditions you so revere, you want to become a whole person who makes her own decisions and actively strives to fulfill her dreams.

We can help you resolve, in nonthreatening ways, the split between a Latina's family and community expectations, and an individual's needs and desires. We can help you demystify a lot of needless guilt and fear, and guide you as you redirect your feelings of anger and frustration into productive energy and vibrant self-worth.

We can help because we are Latinas who were raised in las viejas costumbres, the old ways, and understand them all too well; because we are professional women who have managed to broker a compromise between the world of our mothers and life in North America; and because we are experienced psychotherapists with a largely Latina/o clientele—many of whose stories, like Natalia's, you will read throughout The Maria Paradox.

This book can be an important source of help for you if:

• you're automatically assailed by guilt and frustration and are generally feeling lousy about yourself when you put your own needs ahead of your loved ones'

• your sex and love life aren't satisfying you

• you feel typecast by a rigid, Old World belief which unreasonably views women as congenitally lacking what it takes to succeed in the world outside the home

• you're determined to shed your culturally gender-determined feelings of inferiority and become a fully enfranchised Latina without sacrificing your revered ties to family and tradition

We appreciate that the new yearnings and conflicts you're experiencing are confusing and frustrating you. After all, tradition, as enforced by your family, may be telling you that you can't be an independent-minded Latina. To many people, the very term "independent-minded Latina" is a paradox, a contradiction in terms. We heartily disagree, because in our practices we have seen many Hispanic women resolve conflicts they initially believed were irreconcilable. But in order to do so, they first had to learn that such problems can be solved only if we understand what creates them to begin with. As we see it, your ambivalence and conflicts regarding women's issues have three major sources. They can be compared to three pieces of a puzzle.

The first piece of the puzzle is marianismo/machismo, the traditional Hispanic gender roles. The second piece of the puzzle is the desire to acculturate, or become a member of a new culture. The third piece of the puzzle is self-esteem, or the value you assign to yourself as a human being. As you acculturate, your level of self-esteem can either "make you or break you." If it's low, you stand a good chance of falling prey to marianismo/machismo and acculturation stress. If your self-esteem is high, you can conquer the pressures of tradition, and change to become a self-assured, socially and emotionally well-integrated North American Latina. Our aim in this book is to help you boost your self-esteem to a new high despite clashing cultural and social pressures—and keep it there.

Machismo/Marianismo-Two Sides of the Same Coin

So much has been written about machismo both within and outside the Latino community that the word has entered the English language as a synonym for oppressive male supremacy. However, it's important to be aware that machismo has positive aspects, too. We'll be referring to this "light side" when we feel you can use it to your advantage in improving things with the men in your life. The light side of machismo is personified in the caballero, who is a true protector in every sense of the word.

El caballero protects his wife and family from all dangers. He offers the best seat at the movies to his dama, stands up to give a woman his seat on the subway, carries heavy packages, always opens the door for a lady, and helps with the heavy household chores. While he is still afflicted by machismo, el caballero personifies the sensitive side of a man who deifies rather than denigrates his wife.

One of our purposes in this book is to show you how to bring out la caballerosidad in your man. Unfortunately, we will more frequently be talking about the dark side of machismo—not as the only side, but as the side manifested in certain behaviors and mind-sets, like those displayed by Natalia's father, which impact most negatively on our intimate relationships.

We also want to stress that living as un macho can be hard on a man who feels pressured to act in accordance with a rigid stereotype. We've certainly seen in our practices instances of the onus of machismo, when Latinos are afraid to cry or express tender feelings for fear of losing face. Clearly, gender roles carved in stone aren't in either sex's best interest. But frankly, women much too frequently are on the receiving end of a man's dark side.

Women end up in this position because the dark side of machismo mandates that men have options, and women have duties. It means that a man's place is en el mundo, in the world, and a woman's place is en la casa, in the home. It means that your brother is praised for being ambitious, while you are discouraged for that same quality. And it means that first your father, then your brothers, then your husband give the orders and you obey them.

But there is another side to the coin of machismo, which is equally rigidly enforced and deeply woven into the fabric of Latino/a life. It is called marianismo; it is the mortar holding antiquated cultural structures firmly in place, and it forms the core of the Maria Paradox. While discussed in academic literature—first in a ground-breaking essay written by Evelyn P. Stevens in 1973, and subsequently by such eminent academicians as Sally E. Romero, Julia M. Ramos-McKay, Lillian Comas-Diaz, and Luis Romero—as far as we know, it has never before been presented to the general reader. To us, analyzing exactly how marianismo affects acculturation and causes many of your personal problems is key to solving them.

While we will be focusing much of our attention on marianismo's dark side, we also want to stress that marianismo, like machismo, has a light side. We'll be showing you how to access it and harness its qualities of loyalty, compassion, and generosity to fuel your empowerment and healthfully support those around you.

Marianismo: The Invisible Yoke

"No self-denial is too great for the Latin-American woman," writes Evelyn P. Stevens. "No limit can be divined to her vast store of patience for the men in her life ... but far from being an oppressive norm dictated by tyrannical males, marianismo has received considerable impetus from women themselves. This makes it possible to regard marianismo as part of a reciprocal arrangement, the other half of machismo."

Machismo has been defined by Victor de la Cancela, a Puerto Rican psychologist, as a socially learned and reinforced set of behaviors in Latino society which men are expected to follow. Indeed, if machismo is the sum total of what a man should be, marianismo defines the ideal role of woman. And what an ambitious role it is, taking as its model of perfection the Virgin Mary herself. Marianismo is about sacred duty, self-sacrifice, and chastity. About dispensing care and pleasure, not receiving them. About living in the shadows, literally and figuratively, of your men—father, boyfriend, husband, son—your kids, and your family. Aside from bearing children, the marianista has much in common with una monja de convento, a cloistered nun—but the order she enters is marriage, and her groom is not Christ but an all too human male who instantly becomes the single object of her devotion, for a lifetime.

And what is the earthly reward for this total surrender of self, for being una marianista? In the Old Country, it affords a woman a level of protection as a wife and mother, gives her certain power and much respeto as well as a life free from loneliness and want. In today's North America, marianismo is the invisible yoke which binds capable, intelligent, ambitious Latinas such as many of our clients, friends, and colleagues to a no-win lifestyle.

We use the term "no-win" because marianismo insists you live in a world which no longer exists and which perpetuates a value system equating perfection with submission. Veneration may be the reward tendered to la mujer buena, but in actuality you end up feeling more like a servant than a subject for adoration. Indeed, the noble sacrifice of self (the ultimate expression of marianismo) is the force which has for generations prevented Hispanic women from even entertaining the notion of personal validation. Yet such female subjugation is not only practiced today, it is —ironically—enforced by women, handed down as written in stone by our mothers, grandmothers, and aunts! We have reduced the mandates of marianismo to a set of iron-clad rules of behavior, ten commandments if you will.

The Ten Commandments of Marianismo

Here are the ten commandments of marianismo, which dictate a traditional Hispanic woman's self-esteem.

1. Do not forget a woman's place.

2. Do not forsake tradition.

3. Do not be single, self-supporting, or independent-minded.

4. Do not put your own needs first.

5. Do not wish for more in life than being a housewife.

6. Do not forget that sex is for making babies—not for pleasure.

7. Do not be unhappy with your man or criticize him for infidelity, gambling, verbal and physical abuse, alcohol or drug abuse.

8. Do not ask for help.

9. Do not discuss personal problems outside the home.

10. Do not change those things which make you unhappy that you can realistically change.

These ten commandments are marianismo in its purest, darkest form. But the inflexibility of these rules, like those of machismo, are being challenged in North America. Hispanics who have immigrated to the United States live in a society with economic needs and social and marital obligations different from those in the Old World. Consequently, attitudes and actions condemned as selfish in the Old World are more likely to be seen as self-assertive in North America.

Here is an exercise you can administer to yourself to discover how you are really feeling about things, and what you expect of yourself in many areas of your life right now. This exercise was developed by psychologists Matthew McKay and Patrick Fanning to help people determine their personal "shoulds." Since marianismo involves a lot of shoulds, we have adapted it so that you can determine whether many of your shoulds stem from marianismo.

Get out a piece of paper and write down the first should that occurs to you about each category. Don't mull over your answers. It's important that you spontaneously write down your responses. For instance, next to "Relationships: Spouse" you might write, "I should be more obedient and grateful for what he does for me," or, "I should stop pestering him when he gets home from work and just wants to quietly watch TV." After "Job activities: Efficiency," you might write, "I should start coming in an hour earlier, like a lot of other people are starting to do," or, "My office is a mess! I should get more organized!" Feel free to extend the list of your shoulds inventory to suit your needs.

1. Relationships

Uncles, aunts, and cousins

2. Household Activities

Grocery shopping

3. Job activities

Relationship with boss
Co-worker relationships
Achievement and working toward goals

4. Self-improvement activities

Self-help projects

5. Self-love

Medical appointments
Food and eating

6. Financial activities

Working toward a financial competence goal
Earning ability
Spending habits

7. Expressions and dealing with feelings


8. Recreational and social activities

Going to movies

9. Political and community activities

Attending meetings (PTA, tenants' association)

10. Religious and spiritual activities

Going to church
Reading the Bible


Excerpted from The Maria Paradox by Rosa Maria Gil, Carmen Inoa Vazquez. Copyright © 1996 Rosa Maria Gil, D.S.W., and Carmen Inoa Vazquez, Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


1. "Do Not Forget a Woman's Place": Old World vs. New Life,
2. "Do Not Forsake Tradition": Staying Latina vs. Going Angla,
3. "Do Not Be Single, Self-supporting, or Independent-minded": Enforcing Marianismo vs. Forging a Personally Satisfying Lifestyle,
4. "Do Not Put Your Own Needs First": Selflessness vs. Self-Fullness,
5. "Do Not Wish for More in Life than Being a Housewife": The World of Work vs. the World of Home,
6. "Do Not Forget That Sex Is for Making Babies—Not for Pleasure": Old World Marriage vs. Real-Life Passion,
7. "Do Not Be Unhappy with Your Man, No Matter What He Does to You": Noble Martyr vs. Nueva Marianista,
8. "Do Not Ask for Help": Superwoman Mother vs. Healthy Human Being,
9. "Do Not Discuss Personal Problems Outside the Home": Struggling Alone vs. Finding Support,
10. "Do Not Change": Going with the Flow vs. Making Waves,

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